Remembering Tony Lynes | CPAG

Remembering Tony Lynes

Published on: 
20 October 2014
Written by: 

Jonathan Bradshaw, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy, University of York

Tony Lynes, CPAG’s first member of staff, has died aged 85. He was hit by a car and died of his injuries in London’s Kings College Hospital on 12 October.

It started in 1965 with a meeting at Toynbee Hall to discuss the early results of what became Brian Abel-Smith and Peter Townsend’s The Poor and the Poorest – the book that ‘rediscovered poverty’. Tony then drafted the first memorandum, which was sent to Douglas Houghton, the social services overlord in the Labour cabinet. When there was no response, a second memorandum was sent to the Prime Minister in December 1965, coinciding with publication of the book. That meeting in March 1965 established CPAG, and Tony was appointed its first full-time Secretary in August 1966.

There is a wonderful letter on file, in which he set out what he would do if appointed. It is still a blueprint for a modern pressure group.

Tony trained as a chartered accountant and was recruited by Richard Titmuss at the LSE in 1958 to work on pension policy. He wrote a paper on the level of national assistance payments1 and had become interested in the relationship between family poverty and family size. After writing to Douglas Houghton in 1965 complaining about the lack of progress in social security reform, he was recruited by Margaret Herbison and worked for a year as a frustrated civil servant in the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (MPNI) – writing a paper on family allowances. The other civil servants were astounded by his habit of taking a lunchtime nap at his desk. When he heard that CPAG was recruiting a secretary, he leapt at the chance to get out.

The reform of family allowances became the central issue for CPAG (and they were increased in 1965 for the first time since 1956). Under him, CPAG also campaigned about the level of national assistance/supplementary benefit, the wage stop, against means-testing, and in favour of the integration of child tax allowances and family allowances.

Tony established the office: first at the Family Service Unit in Marylebone Road, then at Skepper House, then on the top floor of Macklin Street. It was him, a typewriter and a part-time secretary. There was no bank account for the first year. His links with key civil servants were a tremendous asset – CPAG advocated claw-back because he was told by MPNI officials that without CPAG’s support of the idea they could not convince HM Treasury to increase family allowances. Tony started Poverty and wrote most of it in the first few years. His mode of operation was to cycle to the House of Commons in the morning, listen to what was being said, cycle back to the office, bash out a press release in the afternoon, and then cycle round Fleet Street distributing it. The power, such as it was, was based on authority and expertise, and the capacity to use both to embarrass ministers and, through them, civil servants.

He discovered the welfare rights movement in the US and was the first to write about it – in Poverty. Tony’s expertise in social benefit law was in demand by social workers. CPAG branches began to emerge, running welfare rights stalls and that movement eventually led to CPAG’s Citizens Rights Office.

Tony left CPAG in November 1968 and was succeeded by Frank Field.

‘I don’t remember why exactly I resigned in the end; I think part of the reason was that people… started setting up branches… and I found myself instead of just manning a typewriter… I was expected to run an organisation and I did not know anything about running organisations, I didn’t want to run an organisation.’ 2

He became a welfare rights adviser in Oxfordshire, where he met his wife Sally. He led the shareholder revolt against Distillers’ unwillingness to compensate thalidomide victims. He wrote a regular column for New Society. And he fought crooked salesmen selling deep freezers full of food at astronomical hire purchase rates on the Berinsfield estate, south of Oxford – he and Sally drove them out of business.

He then went on to be a political adviser to Labour secretaries of state at the Department of Health and Social Security between 1974 and 1979. He was there when CPAG leaked the cabinet papers covering the debates about child benefit. He was furious when the Sun outed him as the leaker and he had paparazzi doorstepping his home. The Sun was wrong – the leaker turned out to be Malcolm Wicks. Tony felt that the suspicion about him harmed his reputation and career.

He wrote a fantastically good history of the Unemployment Assistance Board based on decades of work at the Public Records Office.3 This is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the origins of how and why social assistance replaced the Poor Law. He was an adviser to Labour MPs, particularly Margaret Beckett and Paul Flynn, and claimed to have tabled more (good) amendments to social security legislation than anyone in history. He also became an adviser to Jack Jones at the National Pensioners’ Convention and active in the Southwark Pensioners’ Action Group. He had a personal website, where he blogged authoritatively about social security policy and music libraries.

Tony Lynes was a self-effacing saint –loved and admired by all. He is survived by his wife Sally and daughter Hannah and two grandchildren, to whom we offer our deepest sympathy.

Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York.

Tony Lynes, born 1929, died 12 October 2014

1 Tony Lynes, National Assistance and National Prosperity. Occasional Papers on Social Administration, no 5.
   (Welwyn: Codicote Press, 1962).
2 The Formation of the Child Poverty Action Group Oral history transcript page 21